Subordinating and Coordinating Conjunctions

10:14 am , March 7, 2012 0
Posted in: Grammar Myths

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Two main kinds of conjunctions are subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. (Remember, conjunctions join words or groups of words.) Subordinating conjunctions join clauses of unequal standing and coordinating conjunctions join clauses of equal standing. Examples of subordinating conjunctions include after, although, because, before, if, since, unless, until, when, and while. The seven coordinating conjunctions can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS:

For
And
Nor
But
Or
Yet
So

Subordinating conjunction example: I have not seen him since he left. The word since connects “I have not seen him” to “he left.” This also is an example of an independent clause (“I have not seen him”) that is joined to a dependent clause (“since he left”). Remember, dependent clauses that stand alone are sentence fragments.

Coordinating conjunction example: Jane ordered soup and salad for her meal. The word and connects two things of equal standing as part of Jane’s meal, “soup” and “salad.” Cutting out “and salad” would be inappropriate because “soup” was not Jane’s entire meal.

In grammar school, I was taught to avoid beginning a sentence with conjunctions. But it’s a practice I’ve since eschewed in informal writing. Grammar Girl’s explanation for this practice is spot-on:

The answer is that many teachers cautioned students against starting sentences with conjunctions (especially in the past) because if you don’t do it right, you can create sentence fragments.

However, it is perfectly all right to use a conjunction to start a sentence. (In case you didn’t know, however can be used as a conjunction.) The Chicago Manual of Style also refutes this popular myth:

There is a widespread belief—one with no historical or grammatical foundation—that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as and, but, or so. In fact, a substantial percentage (often as many as 10 percent) of the sentences in first-rate writing begin with conjunctions. It has been so for centuries, and even the most conservative grammarians have followed this practice.

Using a subordinating conjunction to begin a sentence is more acceptable in formal writing than using a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS). Beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction tends to be dramatic or, as Grammar Girl put it, adds “punch.” And too much punch is never good—whether it be a drink or in writing.

So it’s okay to use a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence. Just make sure that it doesn’t create an unnecessary sentence fragment.

Notes:

1. Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008), 77–81.

2. Mark Lester and Larry Beason, The McGraw-Hill Handbook of English Grammar and Usage, (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005), 20–21.

3. James A. Chapman, Handbook of Grammar & Composition, 3rd ed. (Pensacola: A Beka Book, 1996), 25.

4. University of Chicago Press, The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 257–258.

5. Mignon Fogarty, The Grammar Devotional, (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009), 41, 104.

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